FST: Shoulders of Giants – Series Trailer

Following my announcement last post that this project will be a series rather than a single movie, I’ve put together a trailer:

“Almost two years in the making, FST: On the Shoulders of Giants is Stewart Robson’s intimate portrait of life in a modern, highly respected, world-renowned tattoo shop.
Spread across four parts, Stewart interviews resident tattooers, guest artists, customers, and staff to offer a glimpse into what makes Frith Street Tattoo tick. With no candy-coating, the FST crew shares their views on tattoos, the people who do them, the people who get them, and the world of tattooing in general.

Entirely self-produced, directed, and edited, this film stands as an honest portrayal of Frith Street Tattoo in 2012 and 2013.”

Please share it, tell your friends about it, post it to your blogs and tumblr, watch it and wait for the Part One…

Part One: A Film for All and None is still a couple of months away. There are a few conventions coming up and I’m editing this thing in my spare time, whatever that is. Keep your peepers peeled.

I have a new member of staff to help me speed up the production:

I’ve wrangled Harry Bland (FST shop helper extraordinaire) to be a cameraman for B-Roll footage. Thanks Harry.

Less exciting but I’ve also moved the site to a real domain name instead of a x.wordpress.com name.


Assembly Edit – August 2013

I have Assembly Edits of each section of this film completed.
What’s an Assembly Edit? Well, it’s the sequence of clips I intend to use, assembled in the order I intend to use them.
This is a major milestone in the development of this project. After weeks (months) of logging footage, marking transcripts and moving pieces of cut up paper around, I finally have something that resembles a film. Albeit without any supporting images, footage or graphics but it’s still possible to watch it, rather than imagine it. As it’s been up until this point.

News 2!
Yes, I said ‘each section’ up there.
My original plan was to make a film that served as a portrait of Frith Street Tattoo as it stands today. It seems I made four films.
While organising footage and making notes I wanted to divide the film into four subject areas to make it easier to watch. After I assembled the footage, weeding out extra repetition and less interesting parts, I was left with enough useable footage to make 4 films each at least 20 – 40 minutes each. I hope you lot have the stamina to sit through them all. Each one has a different feel and flavour.

Here’s a run-down of the working titles:

Part One: A Film for All and None
This film centres around the Frith Street Godfather, Dante (Danny) and the family atmosphere of the shop.

Part Two: The World is Watching
This one highlights the position of Frith Street Tattoo in the world of tattooing as a whole and the responsibility that entails.

Part Three: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
A film about the direct lineage of Frith Street Tattoo and the tattooers and people who allowed us to be where we are.

Part Four: We Never Sleep
(my favourite section so far – I’m really pleased with the way this one came together)
This film spotlights the work and effort that goes into striving to make each tattoo better than the last and the results of that effort.

I never planned to sell this project but because it’s turned out to be way bigger than originally intended (and thought possible) I’m considering various forms of distribution. My favourite at the moment is to have each section free for a limited time, then offer high quality downloads or a DVD compilation with tons of extra footage that just didn’t fit with the themes of the films.

Right now I’m working on a trailer for the series. As soon as it’s finished I’ll post it here and on Youtube.

In the meantime you can check out some behind-the-scenes photos of how I got to the assembly edits.

Marking the Transcripts:
This took a hell of a lot longer than I originally expected.
I had a huge folder of transcripts to wade through. Each colour pen pertains to a different theme. Yellow – Part One, Pink – Part Two, Green – Part Three and Blue – Part Four.

Logging the marked transcripts in the edit software:
Each marked section is given a number. In the edit software, I select the same range and give it the same number.
PaperEdit_July2013_06  PaperEdit_July2013_08 PaperEdit_July2013_03 PaperEdit_July2013_04  PaperEdit_July2013_02

Arranging the Paper Edit:
After numbering each marked clip I could cut out the marked sections of transcript and begin to arrange them into sub-categories.
Some are for the intro to each section, some for the middle, end, etc.
Then I can start moving them around and deciding how the narrative flows. Once I’ve arranged each section, I paste them onto sheets of paper. These sheets serve as a ‘script’ to the film.
 PaperEdit_July2013_10 PaperEdit_July2013_11 paper_edit_august_6 paper_edit_august_5 paper_edit_august_2 paper_edit_august_3paper_edit_august_4

Then it was a matter of finding the numbered clips in the edit software and placing them on a timeline according to my paper edit.
Now comes part where I re-arrange things a thousand times and make transitions and edits smoother, add photos and supporting footage than I’ll be ready to show a rough cut to friends and family for them to review.

Keep your eyes peeled for the trailer.

Danny Woodruff

Danny Woodruff is at present, the only person working on this film other than myself.

Danny usually works in Manchester, England. He’s currently working away from home in Bordeaux, France. He fills his evenings and time off work transcribing the interviews for me. Transcriptions are a vital part of editing a documentary film.

Currently I’m working through the transcripts of the 20+ hours of interviews I have so far. On printed pages, I mark the suitable sections then these sections can be marked, labelled and catalogued in the editing software. I’m around half way through this first stage of the editing process. Actually cutting together a film longer than a few minutes is almost impossible without transcripts. The next stage is a ‘paper edit’.

I owe a huge debt to Danny for helping me with this.

I interviewed Danny recently. Partly as a long-time customer of Frith Street Tattoo and partly as a ‘staff’ member (or volunteer) of this project.
Before we get to the clip, Danny had this to say:

I’d like to state an aside that in fact my opinion with regards to tattooing really isn’t worth that much. I’m not a tattooer, nor do I aspire to be one. I’m a scientist but I love tattoos with almost the same passion I love science. My opinions are just that, my opinions and I’m very grateful that Stewart thought they were interesting enough to share with you.

I feel very honoured that Stewart allowed me to be part of this project and in some way repay him for the confidence and better life that the tattoos have given me. I’ve enjoyed every moment of transcribing the interviews and I’ve learned a lot more than just a “normal” customer would. Listening to the interviews has made me want to get tattooed by people I previously wasn’t sure about as well as made me reconsider a number of views I had about tattooing as a whole. As well as this it’s allowed me to take a part of Frith Street with me to a different country meaning I’ve had my own little escape that Frith Street normally provides.

Frith Street to me is a lot of things but whenever I think of either the shop or the artist that work there I’m always reminded of quote from Tony Soprano, “What happened to the strong, silent types?” Frith Street is the personification of a strong, silent type. Frith Street doesn’t whine about things, it doesn’t try to be something else, it just does good tattoos. For me working on this project has really driven that point home. This project isn’t a promotional tool or a “reality show”. It’s an honest portrait of a shop just trying to make good tattoos.

For me Frith Street is what a tattoo shop should be and what others should aspire to. I know I’ll continue getting tattooed there by as many artists as possible until I run out of room.

Thank you Stewart for letting me help you and for all the laughs and insights these interviews have given me. I don’t think I would have stayed sane in my flat in Bordeaux without them.


Thanks Danny

Will and Scott

Will and Scott have been getting tattooed at Frith Street for around 4 or 5 years.
They are part of a group of friends who all have serious work from various tattooers at or associated with, Frith Street.
Scott and Will were in town for tattoo sessions with Valerie to continue ongoing work so I took the opportunity to interview them both together.

In this clip Will & Scott talk about why they get tattooed at Frith Street, how we’ve introduced them to a wider range of tattooers and the community aspect of getting tattooed.
Then they show and talk about the tattoos they have.

I took these pictures at the London Tattoo Convention in September 2012. A few of the guys with backpieces are missing from the photo and the ones who just have sleeves are out of frame too.
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L-R, Tattoos by: Valerie Vargas, Stefano C, Valerie Vargas & Stewart Robson.

One of their friends has a great “Rock of Ages” backpiece from Jordan Teear but he wasn’t at the convention that day.
Thanks Guys.


Les Makepeace

I’ve known Les since before I worked at Frith Street. We both worked at a fledgling tattoo shop in the north of England.

He’s seen my progress from when I was trying to figure out how to tattoo in my house to a point where he asked me to tattoo his bodysuit.

Les tattoos at Sideshow Familia in Hove, UK. He’s been getting tattooed by me roughly every 2-3 weeks for around 3.5 years.
In this short clip he talks about the influence Frith Street Tattoo has had on his own work and one of the more memorable times at FST.

Thanks Les.

Ian Flower

It’s difficult for me to introduce Ian Flower without embarrassing myself.
While I never apprenticed under him or worked for him, I’ve learned more from him than any other tattooer. When I first started at Frith Street I worked next to Ian every Wednesday for a year or so. If any of my tattoo work looks accomplished or interesting there’s a good chance it’s looks that way because Ian offered nuggets of advice when I was learning to draw the subject and I had the opportunity to watch him work and steal his tricks and techniques.
Ian has tattooed roughly half of my bodysuit.

One of the central themes to this project (evident in the title) is that any accomplished or successful artist, craftsman or whatever is only able to create at that level because they base their work on those who came before. For me, Ian is the most direct “giant” whose shoulders I stand on.

I interviewed him in his car between running errands and a country pub lunch.

In this clip he talks about how he got started in tattooing, I asked him what he gained from working at Frith Street and if he will return to work with us.

Thanks Ian.

Oliver Macintosh

Oliver Macintosh is a self-proclaimed Black & Grey tattoo legend and the newest full time tattooer at FST.

He’s been with us since February 2012.

In this clip he talks about how he got into tattooing, who he learned to tattoo with, some of the things he’s learned at Frith Street Tattoo and how tattooing can affect a tattooer’s personal life.


I’ve known Soap (Stewart McKellor) since 2003. I met him just as I was starting to learn to tattoo, before I did my first tattoo.
Soap’s shop Lab Monkey in Stirling, Scotland was the first place I did a day’s work as a professional tattooer. I learned a lot there.

Aside from Soap’s contribution to my early development as a tattooer, he’s seen some of his friends start working at Frith Street Tattoo. Including Steve Byrne, Aaron Hewitt myself and Valerie Vargas.

I was in Scotland for the Scottish Tattoo Convention held in Edinburgh. So I visited Lab Monkey and did a few tattoos. After a meal with his family I took the opportunity to interview Soap about what it’s like to be on the periphery of a shop like Frith Street Tattoo.

In this clip he talks about why he started tattooing and his first tattoo experience. He also talks about the influence FST has on his shop and what it’s like getting tattooed at FST.

Thank you Soap.
You can see some of Soap’s work here.

Stefano C

Stefano has been at Frith Street almost since it’s inception.
He’s been with us for almost a decade and is the only apprentice Frith Street Tattoo ever had. He started handing out shop flyers on the streets of soho, progressed to answering the phone, cleaning toilets, making needles and finally to doing great tattoos.
I’ve worked with Stefano almost every day since I started at Frith Street in August 2007. It’s been a pleasure and an honour to be a small part of his progress into a solid, well-respected tattooer.

I shot this interview late one night after the shop closed. We had a couple of drinks and talked for over two hours.
Stefano talked about how he tries to find his own style within established tattoo styles, the historical and current influence on his work and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Jordan Teear

I interviewed Jordan in August last year and posted a short video clip in November.
With my new line of questioning and techniques and I think this is a much more interesting interview. I hope I can still use some of the footage from the first interview too.

Here Jordan talks about how some negative experiences can influence you and teach you to be a better tattooer (and person), how he learns about tattoo styles and the people who invented them (hint: its not the internet). Then he talks about how it’s important to know how to give a customer what they want but that’s not always what they ask for.

Thanks for watching.